It’s been nearly three years since Maryville Police Officer Kenny Moats was murdered, but his father, Kenneth Moats, said he remains proud of what his son accomplished in his short life.
“He was a good father and he was my friend,” Moats said. “He always wanted to be a police officer and to serve the community. He was a good person who wanted to make a difference.”
Moats would have been 35 in July. A life of hard work and sacrifice should have mellowed into a retirement spent surrounded by his grandchildren and loved ones, his father said.
It ended on Aug. 25, 2016, when the Fifth Judicial Drug Task Force member was shot to death during a domestic violence call — a familiar scenario for agencies around the country.
Violence, heart attacks, accidents and other incidents kill first responders on the job each year, a fact of life that was remembered Wednesday at the annual Blount County Law Enforcement Memorial Service at East Maryville Baptist Church.
The event took place during National Peace Officers Memorial Day, set aside in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy as part of a week honoring those who make the ultimate sacrifice.
“It’s a time for the families to know their loved one is remembered,” Maryville Police Chief Tony Crisp said.
Moats’ killer, Brian Keith Stalans, pleaded guilty in 2017 in exchange for a life sentence plus an additional 56 years for violent acts against his father, girlfriend and Blount County Sheriff’s Deputy David Mendez.
The first local officer to die in the line of duty was Maryville Town Marshal James Henry Clemens, who was murdered while unarmed in 1911 during an attempted arrest.
Crisp also honored Maryville Officers Barton Coker, who was shot during a burglary investigation on Jan. 2, 1938, and John Michael Callahan II, who died in 1981.
Blount County Sheriff James Berrong spoke about Deputy William Nuchols, who died of injuries sustained in a 1956 car crash.
Alcoa Police Chief David Carswell honored four officers, including Plant Officer William Hunt, who was shot to death by a labor picketer in 1937 at ALCOA; Officer Fred Guffey, who was shot and killed in 1952 while arresting a man on a charge of possessing moonshine; Lt. Glen Ernest Giles, who died in his cruiser in 1987; and Sgt. Timothy Joe Hunt, who was hit by a drunk driver in 2000.
More than 23,720 law enforcement professionals nationwide have been killed in the line of duty since statistics were kept — 1,163 of them in the past decade, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
“Forty-two officers have been killed this year,” keynote speaker John Becker said Wednesday. “In 2018, 163 died. That is three a week. Ladies and gentlemen, your job is a dangerous one.”
Three were from Tennessee, noted Becker, an anchor at Knoxville’s WBIR-TV.
Chattanooga Police Officer Nicholas Scott Galinger was killed on Feb. 24 by a hit-and-run driver.
Sullivan County Sgt. Steve Hinkle, a 27-year-veteran, died Feb. 26 of injuries from a shooting earlier in the week during a welfare check.
Tennessee Highway Patrolman Matthew Elias Gatti died of injuries after a car crash May 6 in Madison County.
Another five were police K-9 dogs, which are considered sworn officers and enjoy the same legal protections as their handlers.
Becker, a veteran, noted the similarities between police work and the military, a demographic strongly represented in the law enforcement community. Both sides swear an oath and run to trouble instead of running from it, Becker said, adding that an honor code not always visible on the surface underlines both professions.
“Honor, courage and integrity are what you do when no one is looking,” Becker said.
Moats’ legacy continues to be felt. His family’s Officer Moats Foundation provides scholarships for the children of any Blount County first responder.
Knoxville’s Defenders law enforcement motorcycle club will help to raise funds with an annual motorcycle ride at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 25, at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson, 1820 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway.
For registration, cost and other information, call 865-977-1669.
The public also is invited to a law enforcement appreciation service at 10 a.m. Sunday at RIO 180 Church, 1104 Montvale Station Road, Maryville.
The bricks that rained down onto the sidewalk over the weekend are choking the walkway, but the Brackins Blues Club in downtown Maryville isn’t dead yet, building owner Walker Johnson vowed Wednesday.
“We are going to rebuild,” Johnson said. “It’s too early to give out all of the details, but the city of Maryville has given us a path to reopen pretty quickly.”
The club was closed Sunday after dispatchers received a call at 11:46 a.m. that the facade had collapsed onto the sidewalk.
The bricks also blocked the road in a section of East Broadway Avenue, requiring police to divert traffic.
“We are relieved and thankful that it happened when it did,” Johnson said. “There was no one on the street at that time. I believe in a higher power, and I believe there was someone watching out when this happened.”
A final analysis of why the facade fell and an assessment of the extent of reconstruction aren’t complete, but Johnson said the process should move quickly once the permitting phase is completed.
Johnson credited Maryville building official Gary Walker with making every possible effort to help put the building back into service.
“He’s been with us every step of the way, and he’s been at every meeting, which has helped,” Johnson said.
Further details will be revealed when the final site plan is completed, including disclosing the name of a construction company Johnson said is working on the project.
Two other businesses that are housed in the building also will return, Johnson added.
Disposing of the rubble shouldn’t be too difficult either.
Aaron Killiam of the Maryville Downtown Association said his group has requested consideration to receive the bricks for a public project.
“We are creating a butterfly pocket park to provide a gathering place for people coming downtown,” Killiam said. “We are not sure if we will be able to use them, but we hope to. We said, ‘Let’s make lemonade out of lemons out of this facade and refurbish it if we can.’”
William Blount senior Justin Dees had been looking forward to walking across the stage at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday to receive his diploma but was stuck about a mile away — a patient at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
So nurse Jessica Baker began asking what the hospital could do, and within four hours, volunteers and staff created a ceremony just for him.
Mandy Dees said her youngest son had been admitted with an undisclosed illness to the hospital May 7 and still wasn’t out in time for the graduation party they had planned for Sunday.
It wasn’t until someone asked her Monday afternoon whether they could pick up Justin’s diploma from William Blount that the mother realized the hospital was planning something.
He already had his cap and gown at the hospital, because the family had hoped he would be able to attend the ceremony Monday at Thompson-Boling.
“I was shocked and surprised,” Mandy Dees said. “It really touched me.”
Wearing his blue cap and gown with a special Army tassel, the 17-year-old stepped out onto a hospital pavilion Monday, where interns had written “Congratulations Justin” in chalk on the cement.
Hospital volunteer Susan Seagraves played the traditional graduation march, “Pomp and Circumstance,” on a piano wheeled outside for the event.
“He was grinning from ear to ear,” said Cheryl Allmon, director of volunteer services for ETCH.
When Allmon received a call around 1 p.m. asking whether she had any decorations for an impromptu graduation, she already had a cake that said “Congratulations,” intended for a scholarship presentation to former patients and volunteers that afternoon.
“I knew every one of them would be happy to give up that cake,” Allmon said, and volunteer Joyce Halles stayed to serve it at the graduation.
Allmon had pompoms in William Blount’s colors left over from an event last summer, and bubbles for Justin’s 2-year-old sister, Averie, and young cousins to blow at the graduate.
Staff Sgt. Corey Barnes from Oak Ridge, a volunteer at the hospital, was drafted to award the diploma.
Two more Army representatives, Staff Sgts. Tierre Martin and Benjamin Erskine, had been planning to attend the William Blount graduation because Martin is Dees’ recruiter, so they diverted to the ceremony at ETCH in their dress uniforms.
Parents Anthony and Mandy, Justin’s sister, grandparents from Friendsville, grandmother from Arkansas, uncles, aunt and cousins attended the ceremony.
Just before it began, the hospital called the medical staff on his floor to come out and join the celebration.
“When you have a chance to make a difference for a child, you never let that chance go by,” Allmon said.
This wasn’t the first graduation ceremony at ETCH. In March they held one for a patient with a terminal diagnosis, and they have organized special birthday parties, too.
Once they turned three rooms in the pediatric intensive care unit into a prom, with disco balls leftover from the “Dancing With the Knoxville Stars” fundraiser, as staff members dressed in formal attire.
When Allmon doesn’t have everything they need on hand, she can use donations from the “Adopt a Family” fundraiser partnership with Salsarita’s. Volunteer Michael Dayah took photos of Justin’s graduation, and Allmon said the hospital will print the photos to present to the family. “It’s one more thing that we can do,” she said, and one less thing for the family to handle.
“None of this would have happened without his nurse,” Allmon said, “a nurse with a heart for her patients.”
Mandy Dees said the family members teared up when they returned to Justin’s room after the special ceremony because they were so touched by what the hospital and volunteers had done.
“I feel like we’re the ones who are blessed,” Allmon said, with the opportunity to make special memories for children and their families.
This was the second year in a row Mandy Dees spent Mother’s Day at ETCH, having been there last year with her daughter. While she appreciates all the hospital does, she’s hoping to be somewhere else on the next Mother’s Day.